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Crime, injury, idleness and love in Italy (part 2)

Updated: Jan 18, 2022

Day 4 - The gunman and the trains.

Rome had done all it could for two blank-eyed tourists, igniting an infatuation with Italy, and a sense of ignorance and paltriness within ourselves that we hadn't felt even in our own capital. Four days had let us hop from the Pantheon to the Colosseum, the Vatican to the Spanish steps, all from the ceaseless movement of a purple sight-seeing bus. This was the ideal method for circumnavigating the old town of Rome whilst I was dozed up on painkillers and partially mangled. The sights, still, were unforgettable. A city that buried itself within the constant markers of its own permutation, allowing you to stroll through its travesties and beauties, all cast in an impartial white by the marble and sunlight alike. But I could tell that the sight we were both dwelling upon, as we queued for our luggage at Ciampino station, was of a man with a handgun storming towards us on the pavement, barrel pressed against another gentleman’s head.

The fact was, we had been aware of these two gentlemen for quite a while on our walk that day. But the problem with being clueless foreigners, beyond being clueless foreigners, is that you can’t pick up on some of the more subtle tones in languages, even when those languages are shouting at their peaks. The pair had been screaming at each-other behind us, and even in front of us at times, past a few cafes and down various side streets, all of which emptied with our passing. The contents of that shouting, we felt, was as harmless as the shouting we had heard down most Roman streets. It was only as we came to the station that the shouting grew close enough behind us that we turned, wondering whether the pair might be including us in their jovial banter.

We are both decidedly English, and evidently, the distilled fear that other cultures have of guns had not been correctly passed into me. I say this as my reaction to the gun, and the men rapidly advancing towards us, was to stare back in puzzlement. Elle, fortunately, is a more sentient human being, and dragged us into the narrow road where we ducked behind a row of scooters as the shouting and gun-pressing passed us by. The victim was now walking with quick steps, expressing only purpose and disdain, ignoring best he could the man with the gun as they headed directly for the main entrance of the busiest station in Rome, where onlookers were gradually beginning to scream. Just as we felt safe enough to peek from our partial cover, three hatchbacks with ‘polizia’ on their doors appeared from converging alleys, drifting to a halt in front of the men. Out like a clown car came groups of short Italian men with berets, who promptly walked straight towards the gunman and beat the living hell out of him with nightsticks. There were so many police officers beating him after a while, that new arrivals to the station started mumbling about ‘police brutality’. Elle and I both found this irritating. The officers finished the beating to their satisfaction and a pair of them dragged the body to one of the hatchbacks, put it inside, and all left calmly and slowly. There was no crime-scene, just a murky patch on the ground. Elle and I headed for our tour bus.

That was Ciampino station the day before, today we were hot and our legs ached, leaving Roma for Umbria. We had left our luggage at the station whilst we’d headed off for one last plate of pasta in the piazzo. Now we paid, in form of a few euros, and in a line that stretched outside of the station’s entrance to where the murky patch had been faded by the morning's sunlight. Bags retrieved, there was further waiting to do in our terminal, but without a line and with an air-conditioned seat, things were decidedly better. We drank orange juice and watched families wishing farewell to each-other and kids huddled in school-groups. One couple lingering by the exit caught our attention particularly, a tall and dark man in a leather jacket, and a short, sun-dress wearing girl who looked up at him as her world. He was the one leaving, and her constant caressing of his hand and glances upwards to his vacant face and shuffling shoulders led us to believe that this was a heartbreak for one, and not another. Frankly, the morbidity of the scene entertained us on our chairs until our train was ready.

We found our platform and boarded our train in carriage eight, we needed to be in two to make our connection, so we embarked through a perilous iron-tube where it seemed groups of school-children were sprouting out of the very walls themselves, entirely oblivious in their intensive conversations to the two travellers holding luggage above their heads behind them. We made it to eight, and found a table, it was a good setting and I stashed my bag and sat down to write about the wonders I’d see out the window whilst Elle read her book. I’m reading these notes now, and it seems all I did was complain about how many tunnels we went through and the fact my ears kept popping. The notes eventually pick up in tone as the congestion of Rome is left behind and the country-side begins creeping through the windows, tall hills with towns built into the side, ruins seeping into the hills themselves, mountainous cracks coloured by water. Between San Liberato and Montoro there was a lake entirely covered with green algae, the centre turned white by the direct sunlight, and far stretches of grass spaced by pale wheat, that seemed so much greener than anything our summers had made before.

Our connection was at Foligno for Perugia, and we weren’t sure if we’d make it, but as we arrived and disembarked, we found the train for Perugia looked as though it had been born, lived a life, and died at Foligno station. We asked a man in uniform leaning out of its rusty cabin smoking a pipe if the train was running, and he told us: ‘Si, si,’. The train was green like the algae on the lake, and the insides were wide and vacant, it chugged loudly and slowly, the train whistle starting like a cough as we left Foligno. There were no tunnels, only green and brown and blue, our cuboid tank rolling slowly along the brass tracks in the still foliage of Umbria's farm-land. These scenes of barren beauty, of ceaseless nature tamed, were only interrupted by glimpses of historic cities like Assisi, as magnificent as the country around it, and formed equally of it. Perugia would be only a few miles ahead, and the stone cabin where we would meet Elle’s mother, Jacquie, not much further than that.

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